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Document Number: AJ-143
Author: Pike, Zebulon Montgomery, 1779-1813
Title: An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi, and Through the Western Parts of Louisiana, to the Sources of the Arkansaw, Kans, La Platte, and Pierre Jaun, Rivers
Source: Pike, Zebulon. An Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi, and Through the Western Parts of Louisiana, to the Sources of the Arkansaw, Kans, La Platte, and Pierre Jaun, Rivers; Performed by Order of the Government of the United States duing the Years 1805, 1806, and 1807, and a Tour through the Interior Parts of New Spain, when Conducted through These Provinces, by Order of the Captain General, in the Year 1807. By Major Z.M. Pike. Illustrated by Maps and Charts. (Philadelphia: Published by C. & A. Conrad, & Co.; Somervell & Conrad; Bonsal, Conrad and Co.; and Fielding Lucas, Jr., 1810).
Pages/Illustrations: 509 / 20 (19 of tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-143/

Author Note

Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) was born in New Jersey where his father, a career military officer, was fighting the British under George Washington. As the son of a professional soldier, Pike grew up in posts all across the Ohio frontier before joining the service himself at fifteen. He was made a lieutenant at age of twenty, in 1799, and was at Kaskaskia in 1803 when Meriwether Lewis came through to recruit some of his troops for the famous overland expedition to the Pacific.

Pike’s career after the expeditions described in this document was brief. Promoted to major in 1808, during the War of 1812 he was made first a colonel and then a general. While commanding an attack on York (modern Toronto), Pike was killed on April 27, 1813, when the enemy detonated hidden explosives under his advancing troops.

1805-1806 Expedition to the North

In the summer of 1805, Pike was ordered to explore the upper Mississippi River, where English fur traders from Canada were reported to be working illegally on American soil. Pike headed north on August 9, 1805, in a seventy-foot keelboat and on September 23 reached modern Minneapolis, Minnesota. After wintering further upriver and contacting British traders, raising the American flag over their fort, and meeting with Dakota Indians, the expedition returned to St. Louis on April 30, 1806.

1806-1807 Expedition to the Southwest

Pike remained in St. Louis only a few weeks before being sent to reconnoiter the Spanish borderlands in order to ascertain the southern limits of the recent Louisiana Purchase. The political intrigue among Spain, Britain, and the U.S. that surrounded this trip, including treasonous espionage by Pike's superiors, is discussed in the National Park Service Web article cited below.

Pike left for the Southwest on July 15, 1806, with twenty-three men. They headed west up the Missouri River to the Osage country at the border of modern Kansas and then, led by Osage guides, reached a Pawnee village near the border of Kansas and Nebraska. From here they turned south to the Arkansas River which they followed west, reaching present-day Pueblo, Colorado, on November 23,  and the South Platte on December 12. They wintered near modern Alamosa, Colorado, until on February 26, 1807, they were captured by Spanish troops. The Spanish confiscated Pike’s notes and carried the party through Albuquerque and El Paso, and ultimately to Chihuahua, Mexico. There the authorities, not wanting to provoke an international incident, ordered Pike and the remnants of his expedition returned to U.S. soil. They traveled through San Antonio, Texas, to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where they arrived on July 1, 1807. Because of political tensions, no Americans would again explore the Southwest until the Stephen Long Expedition of 1820 (see AJ-144).

Document Note

Because Pike’s papers were taken by Spanish authorities, he wrote his account from memory without access to notes kept on the trail. His book is therefore often vague or mistaken about exact locations, dates, and events, and his route was only traced accurately by later scholars. The editions prepared by Elliot Coues (1895) and Donald Jackson (1965) provide hundreds of annotations that clarify obscure passages in the original. The book was not a success; its Philadelphia publisher went bankrupt and Pike received no royalties. Foreign editions were more popular, with versions published in London in 1811, Paris in 1812, Amsterdam in 1812-13, Weimar in 1813, and Vienna in 1826.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

A thorough discussion of Pike’s life, including a summary of the political and diplomatic context of his 1806-1807 trip, is at the National Park Service “Lewis and Clark Journey of Discovery” site:
http://www.nps.gov/jeff/LewisClark2/Circa1804/WestwardExpansion/ EarlyExplorers/ZebulonPike.htm

For background on western exploration during these years see the Library of Congress online exhibit, “Rivers, Edens and Empires: Lewis and Clark and the Revealing of America,” at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/lewisandclark/lewis-landc.html

Related primary documents can be viewed in the Library of Congress’ “Louisiana Purchase Legislative Timeline” at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/louisiana5.html

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